I think it’s time I say what a lot of people are thinking, once again.
I’ve been on social media since social media was AIM and LiveJournal. I’m not new to this in the slightest. But to me, social media has always been much more the social aspect than the media and – and this is especially true of less condensed/more expressive mediums like blogging and Facebook – I actually place quite a bit of weight on interaction.
Facebook is a prime example here.
My thing is this: nearly everyone who is on my Facebook page are people I either 1. interact with in person in some measure, 2. have worked with in some way or another, or 3. have a conversation with at one point or another, 4. have a shared majority interest, or 5. someone recommended the connection for business reasons. Yes, all thousand-odd people on my list fall into one of these five categories. This is what makes it social media – key word is social. Even here, on this blog: I know who my regular readers are, mainly thanks to 1. subscriptions and 2. IP tracker. And the benefit of how subscriptions work is that nearly always, it’s another blogger, and I can check out what they have to say easily enough.
As such, I do not take very kindly to creepers/stalkers: people who have nothing on their profiles except for a tiny scrapple of mutual connections, who post next to nothing on their own page, but they will spend more than a good bit of time reading through your page and will like several of your posts, but never have anything substantial to say – whether on their own pages or on others’.
That, to me, raises red flags. Call it nearly 15 years of being online; I’ve dealt with a lot in the world of online communication when it comes to people. Stalkers, creepers, impersonators, trolls – been there. Done that. And the number one thing I will tell you? Always, without fail, be suspicious of people who spend more time on what you have to say than on their own content.
First question such behavior always makes me ask is this: what exactly are you trying to find out? I am active enough on social media that the sort of person I am is blatantly obvious. I also don’t get offended at questions. So if you want to ask me something, ask me directly. It may not be the answer you like, but you’ll get an answer. There’s absolutely no need to spend months lurking while saying nothing.
Second, it’s always suspicious when someone has nothing that shows the kind of a person they are. Even the most locked-down profiles give some sort of a hint as to what sort of a person they belong to. A cover photo of your favorite team logo. A selection of the music you like. The last movie you watched. An article you think is important. Little tiny things, all of which point to who you are as a person. If you show nothing but what other people share on your page, if even that, then it’s extremely easy to make the assumption that the only reason you’re on social media is to look at others’ pages.
And I don’t know about a lot of people, but just me, personally? I consider that stalking.
I don’t use the word lightly; I’ve had experiences with stalkers before, and it nearly always starts that exact way: they keep an extremely thorough watch on your activity. Half the time, their own is minimal or veers into odd directions. The one benefit of online stalkers is that you can easily block them, but I will say this, from experience: nothing is worse than a constant feeling of being watched.
Thirdly, if it’s someone I met offline as well as online, I always compare their real-life behavior to their virtual behavior. What do I look for? Consistency. 90% of the time, I’ve been lucky – and yes, it is luck – that the people I know are exactly the same off the Internet as they are on it. But if there’s nothing on your page that shows your personality and you spend entirely too much time on my own page, you better really be something special in person, because it doesn’t matter whom you’re related to, connected to, etc. – I will boot you faster than you can blink.
I will acknowledge not everyone is a social media person. But even those who aren’t social media types find a way to interact on the web that doesn’t set off the red flags.
Seriously. There’s a way to interact on social media that does not give the person you’re looking at the heebie-jeebies. A lot of people forget that social media is social and interaction is kind of a required thing. So seriously, guys… talk. Engage in discourse. Comment.
Now. I know I have a relatively public profile. But if you look carefully and read between the lines, for all the public activity on my page, there’s very little genuinely private information on it. My pictures, my restaurant check-ins, my political meanderings, etc… None of this is at all in any way different than what a lot of other people do. I initially went public when I got my camera, and it paid off beautifully – I cannot imagine getting the photo opportunities I had if I didn’t decide to end my self-imposed lockdown. Nonetheless: for all the public ways that I live my life, the really important things remain in the only secure place I know: between my ears. Unless I choose to share something that makes a good cautionary tale or a feel-good story, it’s generally staying in my head.
And the IP tracker on this blog? Nothing personal. It just helps to keep me safe. I know my usual readers, and I can easily pick out the returning readers. If, for instance, I know that a friend of mine has an iPad and uses, for example, Xfinity/Comcast – I’ll see their IP hit as a tip of the hat and a hello. If I see an unfamiliar IP from from India? I’d raise an eyebrow and chalk it up to Google or to a VPN/IP routing service. Really, not that serious, but it does give me a little bit of insight.
So when it’s someone whom I find coming back a wee bit too frequently? Well… that’s what an IP block is for.
Go on, call me paranoid. But if there’s anything a decade and a half of being on the Internet taught me, it’s that caution is the greatest virtue of online connections. I’ve been amazingly lucky with my friends. I met a bunch of them online, just as many offline as well. But mind you, if I didn’t check first, I’d never have known they were the real deal in the first place. It’s not paranoia. It’s not distrust. It’s a basic self-preservation routine, no more and no less.